By Jarryl Bryan
The Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) at its 32nd annual general meeting yesterday, unveiled a report of a Commission of Inquiry ordered by President David Granger. The report revealed that 25 deaths have been recorded in 16 accidents within the past 12 months.
Among the findings were that the principal causes of pit failure accidents were the neglect of safe mining practices, as well as shortcuts being taken in a bid to grab as much gold, in the shortest time possible.
GGDMA executive Colin Sparman, a member of the Commission of Inquiry into mining pit collapses, presented the findings of the Commission to the meeting.
It was noted in the Administrative Coordinator’s report that from 2010 to 2015, a total of 62 miners, particularly young men, have died in the industry. This figure was described as “scandalous and unacceptable”, in particular since the statistics are from a small population.
The COI was launched after the mortality rate for gold miners recorded a spike on May 17 last, when a Mowasi, Potaro mining pit collapsed and killed 10 miners in what was arguably the worst mining accident in recent memory.
The findings were expected to be released imminently as the COI was concluded since August. It had however been reported that the findings were with the Cabinet.
According to Sparman, there was an absence of controls to make the mine facing (inner wall) safe when miners washed the ore. This was coupled with the fact that a lot of miners were practicing shortcuts including the non-removal of overburden (waste earth deposited from digging operation), contributed to the mining pit collapses.
In addition, there was an absence of proper entry and exit points to the mine, making it almost impossible to safely escape when there is danger.
“We found that steep and high mine (facings) with poor or no benches were a feature of these (accidents),” Sparman said. The report also noted that once the retaining walls were breeched, there was no restraining the loose and wet mud.
Sparman also noted that during the COI, miners reported living in perpetual fear of the walls falling on them, a fear that stayed with them every day as they worked. This, he said, was particularly true during the rainy season. In fact running from these walls has become a daily practice for miners.
Sparman added that the COI determined there was a pervading lax culture to safety and that clear rules must be applied and enforced.
“As the Guyana Women Miners Organization (GWMO) puts it, everyone is wired for gold and not for safety. A drastic change in culture involving education and sensitization at all levels- miners, operators, property owners and regulators, is required.”
Larger pits, larger responsibilities
The recommendations of the report also noted that as the gold industry transitioned over the years, the sector became more mechanized and heavy duty machinery characterized mining.
However, the report went on to note, the sizes and dimensions of the pits being excavated required proper engineering controls and safeguards that appeared to be beyond the capability of most operators in the sector.
One of the recommendations called for the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to institute the proper framework in order to respect the requirements of the transition and avoid accidents in the future.
Sparman also pointed out the shortcomings of the emergency rescue system. “Whenever an accident occurred, the available emergency mechanism, the search and rescue recovery was inadequate and will need proper definition and manning. There is also poor reporting of these accidents. Most times GGMC would act on a report (appearing) in I-news or Demerara Waves or Kaieteur News. GGMC needs to improve on this,” Sparman said.
Current inspection system
The report described the current operator-inspection system for wall cracks and instability as “woefully inadequate” since there was a lack of experience with mining pit requirements.
Among the recommendations put out of the COI findings to address this shortcoming was for operators to receive more “robust” guides and predictive tools. In addition, the report noted, engineering support must be mandatory for these operations in order for it to even be continued.
Another recommendation was for all operations using earth moving equipment to file a plan. Noting that it is not enough for operators to just go out and dig, the report observed that plans must include everything- location of waste/overburden, tailings management plan, camp and other infrastructure around the mine.
The COI’s report was succinct in calling on GGMC to fulfill its responsibilities, stating that visiting mining operations and issuing cease work orders when breaches were observed was not enough. Imran Khan, owner of the Mowasi mining pit was issued such an order before the pit collapse, but he then countered with an injunction.
Instead, the report said, the relevant remedial advice to cure the technical and other deficiencies was essential.
The COI was first ordered by President David Granger and was chaired by Dr. Grantley Walrond; its membership was composed of representatives from the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) and the Ministry of Social Protection. Its technical advisor was Jo Bayah.
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